When death becomes real
We write about crime, death, torture, corpses, graveyards and cops and we do it very often with a glass of wine near our keyboard or across from each other at a table at Mango’s on Las Olas. It’s pretty easy for us to use our purple sticky notes to move one murder from chapter forty to chapter thirty five, because, when you write fiction, you can kill anyone you want whenever you want and then finish off the wine and go to bed.
Sometimes, with enough wine or after a particularly gruesome scene, Kris and I would wonder what kind of people we are to be able to write this stuff, and almost always, the answer is that no matter how graphic we may get, in the end, we know none of it is real.
But I have learned it’s far different when it is real.
I have had both the pleasure and discomfort in recent months of assisting a new author on a true crime novel. He is a police officer and he had a story he wanted to tell but he had no idea where to start. As a published author working on a new book, I was in need of technical information about his department. Outside a bowling alley one night, we struck a deal. I would do a little editing for him. He would answer my police questions.
I thought it would be easy. Like many authors, as PJ Parrish, we have frequently done light editing and critiquing for charity auctions and occasionally for friends, and I suspected this would be no different. There were a few things I did not anticipate.
First was the author’s passion for his story. His need to tell the story eliminated any of the usual author ego issues and it made the editing so much more honest and easier. Second, I did not realize how different it would be writing about events and people that were real.
Over the next few months, as the story unfolded on my monitor, I found myself weighed down by the sadness of it. I started to think about the victim at the oddest times. I even found myself playing the what if game on the crime, building on the tragedy of a murdered police officer and making the nagging sense of loss for a man I never knew, even deeper.
Now driven with a duel passion, we kept on.
But even as the chapters went back and forth over the internet, and the scenes started to come alive with more vivid images, and I began to see the finished project as publishable, the late night haunting continued.
I expected at some point, that the repeated exchanges of the same chapters and scenes would work to dull the emotional impact. But it didn’t. It got to the point where I would postpone sitting down to edit until I knew I had two days to be depressed afterwards.
Then I was allowed a peek at the crime scene photos. And I looked.
Now everything was real.
The project is nearly completed now. The author’s passion has not waned, and except for his heavy work schedule, I am sure he would prefer to write until dawn, even as he wraps up the final chapters. On my end, I continue to fill his pages with red ink and the learning process for both of us goes on as a book is nurtured to maturity. And as strange as it sounds, when it is complete, I know I will miss it. I will miss the author’s passion and dedication and I will miss the people in the book, because in a way, telling the story allowed the victim to live once again, if only on pages and if only for a few months. I hope we have done him justice in our efforts.
I have thought recently about what I will ultimately take away from this experience. It is a complicated answer because I know I will reap some sense of satisfaction from helping a new author, and as someone who deeply respects law enforcement, there’s a part of me that is honored to have even penned a single word.
But I suspect that in the end, what I take away from this will be something far different and more meaningful.